Lizz Wright: Shadow

After acclaim for albums on Universal and an appearance on Barack Obama's playlist, the southern singer branches out with her own-label debut


She’s recorded for the big labels, including Verve, but Shadow is Lizz Wright’s debut studio album on her own label – Blues & Greens Records. The 11-track album is an eclectic mix of five original compositions and songs from such diverse talents as Cole Porter (I Concentrate On You), Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (I Made A Lover’s Prayer), Sandy Denny (Who Knows Where Time Goes), Candi Staton (Sweet Feeling), Toshi Reagon (I No More Will Run) and Caitlin Canty (Lost In The Valley).

It is just over 20 years since Wright, subject in April last of a Jazz Journal interview, released her debut album, Salt, on Verve. Aged 23, Wright had made a name for herself in the USA as a vocalist with a touring concert tribute to Billie Holiday. Salt topped Billboard’s contemporary jazz charts and brought Wright national and international recognition. A move to the Universal Music Group in 2005 resulted in the release of three new albums (Dreaming Wide Awake, Orchard and Fellowship). In 2016, Wright moved to Concord Records, and this resulted in the release of the albums Grace and Freedom & Surrender – the latter featuring the widely acclaimed single Lean In (given greater publicity after being found on President Obama’s 2016 summer playlist).

This is said to be the album Wright has always wanted to record, without the pressures that come from record labels wanting artists to fit into a specific genre. Whilst Wright been in the jazz genre for most of her recording career (with an emphasis on the Great American Songbook), it has not always been a comfortable fit.

It is said that Wright nurtures a sound and feel of America that is solely her own. That may just be just A & R speak for saying that Shadow is a difficult album to categorise and publicise. Regardless, the five original tracks, combined with some very personal covers, are testimony to an original, perceptive and sensitive talent. For me the overall feel of the album is almost spiritual – maybe born from her southern upbringing in Georgia, where she was the musical director of a small church in which her father was the pastor.

If you approach this album thinking that you know Lizz Wright and are expecting the usual offering, then you may be disappointed. On the other hand, if you approach it with an open mind and genuinely want to hear what one of America’s best contemporary female vocalist and songwriter (regardless of genre) has to offer when she bares her soul, then you will be richly rewarded. The album exudes sincerity, humanity, fragility and honesty and as such it makes for an original and refreshing listen.

Sparrow; Your Love; Root Of Mercy; Sweet Feeling; This Way; Lost In The Valley; I Concentrate On You; Circling; No More Will I Run; Who Knows Where The Time Goes; I Made A Lover’s Prayer (50.00)
Wright (v); Glen Patscha (org); Kenny Banks Sr. (p); Adam Levy, Chris Bruce (g); Rashan Carter, Meshell Ndegeocello (b); Deantoni Parks (d); Abe Rounds (pc); Trina Basu, Arun Ramamurthy, Brandee Younger, Melissa Bach, Katherine Hughes, Jeff Yang, Elizabeth Braithwaite (strings). No location or date provided.
Blues & Greens/Lightyear 00810069450872